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As we enter the year 2007

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The passage from one year to another is merely a convenient demarcation point for really there is nothing different in the change from the 31st of December to January 1st as with the change from any other day to another. It is however the aura and traditions that make this period special. There is because of this an excitement, hopes, expectations and goodwill that we take with us into this new period.{{more}}

We change diaries and make grand plans and pledges that usually do not survive much beyond the actual day on which they were made. Anyone who undertakes to engage the public at this time especially as a newspaper columnist is expected either to reflect on the past year or to anticipate the happenings in the New Year. I have chosen to do the latter for this first article of this New Year.

There are a number of things that will stand out this year. Among them celebrations to mark the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade, the Cricket World Cup, our continued march toward the Caribbean Single Market and Economy, efforts to make some sense of regional air transport, nursing Haiti back into the regional fraternity, battling AIDS and Crime, fighting for the survival of the banana industry and continuing our negotiations with Europe for an Economic Partnership Agreement. At a much localised level there is the issue of the introduction of the Value Added Tax in May. There are of course challenges with all of these and hopefully opportunities which we can seize and build on.

One of the earliest tests for our regional community will be our ability to successfully host the Cricket World Cup. I am not talking here about success as it relates to the West Indian team being victorious because I am not sure there are many of us that hold such grand ambitions even at a season when such ambitions are common. I am referring to the ability of individual nations in the process of creating a single market and economy being able to host an event with standards more appropriate to developed economies than to those of poor developing nations. Granted we are now more and more a part of a globalised world with security concerns that cannot be simply dismissed. We have to be careful in all of this not to throw out the baby with the bath water. Cricket in the West Indies goes beyond what is played out on the pitch. It is entertainment. It is a sort of carnival. Think of the number of persons who attend cricket matches claiming to have enjoyed themselves without even knowing the scores. This speaks volumes.

After witnessing the total confusion with missing luggage, some people having to wait for as long as five days, I am not overly optimistic about our ability to smoothly handle the transport challenges involved in games played in a number of separate countries. To speak of this is also to remember that there is unfinished business in the attempts to forge some sort of relationship between two of our regional carriers, Caribbean Star and LIAT. It is my understanding that the BWIA replacement, Caribbean Airlines, intends to have Dash-Eight aircrafts to service its hubs in Barbados, Trinidad and Antigua. Additionally Air Jamaica appears slated to remain a Government supported or controlled entity. We seem to be trapped between creating a monopolistic being or separate entities that belie any sort of harmonious working relationship. At some point there is also the issue of sorting out a relationship between a government -controlled entity and a private sector operation. Is there really a philosophy governing these attempts or is it merely a number of entities fighting for their survival? Are we really trying to rationalise regional air services? Our competition as things stand is not only with the foreign carriers but among Caribbean airlines. We need to get our house in order and have to do it soon, so we anxiously await the outcome of the negotiations between our governments and the privately run Caribbean Star Airlines, as, hopefully a first step to a more rational system.

March brings with it the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade that will be marked by the decision to single out March 26 as the International Day for the occasion. But it is more than a single day. Individual countries in the Caribbean have drawn up plans to highlight the event throughout the year. The event that we commemorate occurred in England but was prompted by events in our part of the world and had a tremendous impact on us, for once it was set in motion there was no stopping the eventual destruction of slavery. It furthermore prompted the move to abolish the trade elsewhere. The struggle against the slave trade had started long before but this was an important landmark. It is good that Caribbean governments saw it fit to take this to the United Nations and get the international community to be a part of the occasion.

The move toward the Single Market and Economy is perhaps our biggest challenge. The efforts to create a single economic space and to tighten regional cooperation like all other efforts at regional integration will not come easily. For different reasons previous efforts were fraught with innumerable difficulties. It is even worse today with sovereign nations holding steadfastly to their sovereign rights and even prejudices. At Caricom meetings and gatherings all sorts of grandiose plans and statements are made but the problem is what happens after. CARICOM’s major difficulty is implementing what is agreed on. Delegates go back to their respective homes to meet their different constituencies with their particular concerns and interests. At that level what is uppermost is not the grand regional pronouncements but the demands of those who make the periodical journey to the polling booth. It is expected that the question of governance will be faced squarely at the next meeting in February in St.Vincent. There has been talk of a high level CARICOM unit mandated with the authority to ensure the implementation of decisions made at the regional gatherings. It will be good to see this work but it is easier said than done.

For us in SVG our biggest concern if not challenge for the year will be the introduction of the Value Added Tax. There is a great deal of ignorance about this and with that fears. Two major tasks lie ahead, continued and more effective information about this new tax and putting in place the structure that will allow it to flow smoothly. One of the problems we always face in such situations is our failure to recognise that the media and process are as important as the message. To make or put out information is no guarantee that it is digested. There is no turning away from VAT. It represents one of the reforms that have to be made as we embrace globalisation and strive for a single economic space.

It is hoped that the decision to delay its implementation will allow the authorities the space and time to ensure that things are put properly into place and that feedback is still accommodated.

Our ability to meet the many challenges ahead will determine what we make of 2007.

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